Bushfire Research: an Australasian approach

In an average year around 29 million hectares of Australia’s 7.7 million square kilometres are burnt by fire. With seasonal fluctuations however, this area can vary to four times greater or less than this average. For example, in 1974/75, 115 million hectares or 15% of Australia was burnt.

The combination of topography, vegetation and climate see significant parts of the Australian landscape constituting some of the most severe fire-prone areas on Earth. Yet fire is a natural part of the Australian landscape and it has helped shape the continent’s flora and fauna for millennia.

On Saturday February 7th 2009, after thirteen years of drought and on a day of extreme fire conditions, one hundred and seventy-three people died over several hours during the most deadly bushfires in Australia’s history. Around 430,000 hectares of farmland and forest were burnt and 2000 properties and 61 businesses were damaged or destroyed.

Several towns were largely obliterated and around 78 communities were impacted upon. These fires and their consequences stunned the nation. The fires severely burnt some 10,000 ha. of prime native timber and 16,684 ha. of plantation forests, while preliminary estimates of carbon dioxide released to the atmosphere are around 8.5 million tonnes. Direct rehabilitation costs were estimated to be in the vicinity of over $A1B while the overall cost was estimated by the subsequent Royal Commission to be around $A4B+.

In 2003 the Australian government agreed to the establishment of a Bushfire Cooperative Research Centre which, at the time, became one of 56 public-private research centres operating in Australia. The formation of the Bushfire CRC was, and remains, a major initiative of over 40 fire, land management and related agencies and research organisations across Australia and New Zealand (the Bushfire CRC’s current funding is due to expire in 2013).

As part of the ForestTECH 2010 event for Australian technical foresters (similar presentations in New Zealand are also been given), Gary Morgan, CEO, Bushfire CRC will be part of a number of presenters on forest fire fighting technologies. Gary will be outlining recent research that on the use of prescribed fire as part of a risk management strategy for hardwood plantations, the effectiveness and efficiency of aerial fire fighting; computer modelling and fire management and the recent evaluation of large aircraft (a DC 10) to assist in bushfire suppression.

ForestTECH 2010 runs in Australia on 22-24 November and for New Zealand forestry staff, the week before on 17-19 November. Full details on both programmes in the series can be found on www.foresttechevents.com

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